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Opera was a well established European form which came to America in the late eighteenth century. By the late nineteenth century it had become the dominant entertainment and jousting place for prestige among the upper classes in New York. The old guard Academy of Music vied with the new money supporting the Metropolitan Opera, offering extraordinary salaries to divas from home and abroad. The Metropolitan Opera eventually prevailed and its superstar casts were recorded by the Met librarian, Lionel Mapleson, wielding an ancient cylinder machine in the wings or on a catwalk high above the stage.

These early recordings captured voices of the divas of the day such as Emma Eames, Johanna Gadski, Lillian Nordica, and Marcella Sembrich, who would soon become famous to a wider audience thanks to the development of the phonograph. Not all the stars were that fortunate. The Mapleson cylinders give us, for example, our only aural glimpse (however poor) of the famed tenor Jean DeReszke in operas by Richard Wagner and Giacomo Meyerbeer.


Tosca [Sound recording] : Act II: V issi d'arte. Excerpt: "[Sem]pre con fe sincera"...to the end of ar ia

2001 The New York Public Library - The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
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